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NY May Stop Asking New Lawyers to Disclose Sealed Criminal Records

Question 26 on New York state’s applications for new lawyers asks them to disclose their complete criminal records, in an effort to block people from the profession who might harm its reputation and the legal system. Law groups, judges and professors are criticizing the provision, which requires juvenile cases and sealed or expunged convictions to be revealed, reports The New York Times. State legislators have introduced a bill to rewrite the question that experts believe most likely violate New York laws. The administrative board of the state’s court system, which would oversee changes to the application, has been asked to take up the issue — and could do so as soon as this month. In every state, becoming a lawyer requires the disclosure of criminal records, financial troubles and lapses in academic discipline as part of a “character and fitness” assessment. Some officials consider weighing a lawyer’s criminal history and personal background important. Others say that many people of color have long lacked faith in the system, and that the profession’s established rules must be rethought to regain their confidence. While many job applicants are asked for information on open criminal cases and records of felonies or misdemeanors, they aren't asked for information about sealed convictions, juvenile cases or arrests. The New York State Bar Association says the question violates laws that ban agencies from asking about dismissed or sealed cases, as well as juvenile records, which are typically confidential because youth have not attained their full decision-making capacity or moral sensibility. Legal groups in New York say it is rare for people to fail the evaluation, and the bar application notes that “the mere fact” someone has a criminal record will not alone prevent their admission.

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